Release: 9th May 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Company commander Claus Michael Pedersen and his men are stationed in an Afghan province. Meanwhile, back in Denmark, Claus’ wife Maria is trying to hold everyday life together with a husband at war and three children missing their father. During a routine mission, the soldiers are caught in heavy crossfire and in order to save his men, Claus makes a fateful decision that leads to a tragedy that could seriously affect his military career and family life.
The war film; it is a genre that usually means horror, torment, chaos and melancholy. Depending on the story’s setting, this is usually the pain of fighting a war or the psychological fallout when soldiers return home. Tobias Lindholm, never one to shy away from a cinematic witch hunt, ventures down a slightly less trodden path with A War. For Lindholm, warfare is less about the individual and more about the family. A War may start with an IED, but the real battle is being waged on a domestic level; as we see the daily grind of Maria Pedersen trying to keep her young family functioning, while her husband Claus is away fighting the Taliban.
Lindholm is possibly best known for his screenplay to the Oscar nominated drama The Hunt. As with The Hunt, A War spirals into a tense and troubling world of social morality. Similar to Lucas in The Hunt, Claus Pedersen is a well-respected and highly competent member of his profession, he is a strong leader and a considerate company commander. But when Claus’ judgement is called into question, the foundation of his life quickly crumbles. Unlike The Hunt, A War is less about proving the truth to ensure judgement, but rather choosing a truth to avoid it.
There is a definite sense that A War ends in a very unsatisfactory way. The film has such an emotional complexity and maturity, that you might anticipate something more ambiguous. But Lindholm decides to tie everything up, and leaves something really rather disarming. Claus spends most of the film feeling like a victim in some way; victim to his emotions, to his job, to his decisions, to his men, to his family, and to the choices of others. Classical screenwriting techniques stipulate that the protagonist must drive the plot. If that is the case, then the true protagonist of A War is everyone but Claus.
Pilou Asbæk does wonders in the role of Claus. He is far from a barking bullyboy or even a badass veteran, but rather a seemingly gentle and humble man who finds himself in some of life’s hardest situations. Ultimately it’s this nice guy persona that propels Claus’ downfall, and shows that war really isn’t for everyone. We see very little of the effect this life has on such an everyman until the closing minutes of the film; where a flippant action leads to one of the movie’s most emotionally crippling moments. It leaves the sense that war doesn’t just haunt you, it lingers in the quieter segments of life waiting to catch you unaware.
The true core of the film, however, is Tuva Novotny. If you want to see someone slowly unravel a character, you’ll be amazed by what she achieves with Maria. To tell anything would spoil the experience, but let’s just say she bares a striking resemblance to a certain Shakespearean character. Her exchanges, meanwhile, with the young actors playing her children are wonderfully pertinent. One scene in particular, involving milk and some clear ad-libbing, is just great viewing. That and the scene with the car door are great.
Film Grade: B+
Special Features Grade: F
Great film, and one to celebrate as Tobias Lindholm’s career moves in an exciting trajectory. But where-o-where are the special bloody features!?